Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls live in London

Frank Turner - Tape Deck HeartIn the week that his fifth studio album ‘Tape Deck Heart’ was released, Frank Turner was in a distinctly upbeat mood.

The former frontman of hardcore punk outfit Million Dead hasn’t always had an easy ride since he made the transformation into folk-rock troubadour seven years ago. Overnight sensation, he is not.

But with a hit single (‘Recovery’) under his belt, not to mention a headline show at Wembley Arena and a cameo at the Olympics opening ceremony, he is now well-equipped to not just sell out, but truly own venues like the Kentish Town Forum for many years to come.

Warm-up act Larry and His Flask did a tremendous job of getting the capacity crowd moving with their turbo-charged hobo blues. If Seasick Steve ever joined Gogol Bordello, it would sound something like this.

After a minor technical delay (possibly relating to a live YouTube stream of this gig), Turner took to the stage with standout anthem ‘Four Simple Words’. This looks set to become a fan favourite with its dynamic juxtaposition of dancehall waltz, chest-beating punk and the irresistible refrain: “I want to dance”.

From here on the show progressed like a greatest hits compilation, with Turner freely flitting between all five of his studio albums. Recent album cuts ‘Polaroid Picture’ and ‘Good & Gone’ were met with the most muted responses, suggesting…

To read the full article on Virgin Red Room, click here.

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Biffy Clyro live at the 2012 iTunes Festival

Biffy Clyro live at the  2012 iTunes Festival London Camden RoundhouseOne of this year’s major coups at the iTunes Festival was lining up Scot-rockers Biffy Clyro to play London for the first time in over a year. With the band having just announced a January 28th release date for their sixth studio album ‘Opposites’, this was a great opportunity to showcase some of their new material.

First up, the crowd were roused into good spirits by fellow Scots Frightened Rabbit. The Selkirk quintet served up a 45-minute set that varied from compelling to pedestrian. ‘Swim Until You Can’t See Land’ got a strong reception, with lead singer Scott Hutchinson sounding in fine fettle.

Following the now customary 60-second iTunes Festival countdown, Biffy Clyro got a thunderous response when they took to the stage, with the laid-back sounds of Simon and Garfunkel providing a stark contrast to the juddering rhythms of new single ‘Stingin’ Belle’.

From here on in, the set was fairly evenly split between new material, hit singles, and obscure tracks getting their first run-out in years. Of the new tracks, the expansive stadium rock of ‘Victory Over The Sun’ was by far the most impressive, while ‘Sounds Like Balloons’ blossomed from a funky off-beat intro into a full-blown hard rock crescendo. The hits were out in force, from a joyous rendition of ‘The Captain’ to the bounce-along classic ‘Who’s Got A Match?’. The arms-in-the-air ballad ‘Many Of Horror’ split the crowd right down the middle, with the odd cry of “we love you Matt Cardle” undercutting the mood somewhat.

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Bloc Party – Four (Album Review)

Bloc Party Four new albumBack in June, Kele Okereke admitted that “there was a big question mark over whether Bloc Party were ever going to make a record again”. Well two months later and it’s a good thing that they stuck at it, because ‘Four’ is their most consistently brilliant album since ‘Silent Alarm’.

Produced by Alex Newport (At The Drive-In, Mars Volta), this is an unashamedly heavyweight rock album that proves once and for all that guitar music still has a place in the British indie scene.

Bloc Party’s last effort ‘Intimacy’ and Okereke’s subsequent solo-project ‘The Boxer’ seemed to suggest that they believed otherwise. But right from the crunching riffs of ‘So He Begins To Lie’, to the grandstand Queens of the Stone Age-inspired closer ‘We Are Not Good People’, this record throbs with confidence in the decision to go back to their roots and become a guitar-based band once again.

Musically, ‘Four’ feels like the bravest album released so far this year, with plenty of gambles that almost all come off. ‘3X3’ is a dark, twisted song of seduction, which has the urgency of Yourcodenameis:Milo in their pomp, while ‘Octopus’ is the perfect lead-off single for this album, highly unusual with its falsetto verses, but undeniably catchy and with a Daft Punk-esque guitar solo that ties it all together.

Fans of early Bloc Party won’t be disappointed either…

To read the rest of this review on Virgin Red Room, click here.

Kick Up The Fire – Money Men (ep review)

Kick Up The Fire Money Men unsigned bandTwo years ago, when Kick Up The Fire released their self-titled debut ep, I boldly suggested that they could take 2011 by storm.

Well it’s 2012 and they’ve only just got round to releasing their follow-up effort. Can’t win them all, eh?

Happily, the band’s sophomore effort is more than worth the wait. ‘Money Men’ is a tightly honed record, with each track as well produced and catchy as the last. Much like on their debut ep, the band still retain a slow-burning style, which may not knock your socks off at first, but gradually worms its way into your mind.

Lead singer Kenny Wastell’s lyrics are a big reason for this, with clever turns of phrase as he poetically skewers lad-mag culture on opening track ‘Loaded’. The more rhythmic guitars help to create a danceable tempo, and the lead guitar licks on ‘Spiders’ add plenty of flair.

‘Takeover’ is possibly the best of the bunch, acting as a passionate call-to-arms for disenchanted commuters and office drones, while ‘White Cube’ draws proceedings to a close with quirky rhythms and incongruous brass, much in the vein of Biffy Clyro (circa ‘Infinity Land’).

The only real criticism to be made is that the band don’t make as much of the call and response vocals that worked so well on their last record, which is a shame.

But it must be said ‘Money Men’ feels like a more coherent and polished effort, it proves their worth as one of the UK’s most exciting prospects, and at just 12 minutes long it will leave you crying out for more.

You can read more about Kick Up The Fire on their hilariously foul-mouthed blog, and if you head to their Bandcamp page before Monday 30 July, you can download their debut ep for free.

Ever wanted to cut your first vinyl record? Now you can!

rapper, vinyl
This guy will not be allowed to record

Hipsters of London, rejoice! All your trendiest fantasies have come true – you can now feature on the world’s most exclusive run of vinyl.

Never Records are spending a month on the Southbank as part of Merge Festival to offer a unique opportunity to up-and-coming artists.

All you have to do is e-mail the label and explain why you’re so amazingly en-vogue and they will let you record one of your songs and press it into a timeless vinyl disc.

What’s more, the cutting will be limited to just two, one for you and one for the store to sell, so the scene points to be won from this are pretty much infinite.

In all seriousness, this seems like a really cool idea and a great way to preserve a song for posterity’s sake. The New York Times described this project as “a love letter to the dying concept of the record store” and I’m inclined to agree with them.

Admittedly I was a little slow in blogging about this project (it started two weeks ago!), but there’s still time to get involved, as the project runs five days a week until October 9th. Even if you don’t want to record, it’s still worth a look to browse through some unique vinyl records, all of which will be on sale to the public.

Why I’m voting Yes to AV and why it’s crucial to vote

a ballot paperTomorrow sees a momentous occasion in British politics. It will be only the second time in the history of this country that the public will be asked to give their opinion in the form of a referendum, yet not many people seem at all excited about it.

Before I lay out my case for AV, it’s worth considering why the turnout is likely to be so low.

Particularly in my region, London, where there are no local elections to get people out to the polling stations, the turnout is predicted to be pifflingly low. We’re talking 15 per cent compared with 35 per cent in the provinces.

Despite weeks of explaining the pros and cons of both systems and some heavy-handed political mud-slinging, people just aren’t that interested. I believe this is down to a key disenfranchisement at the state of our electoral system, something that AV could fix.

Under First Past The Post, its easy to feel like your vote doesn’t count and be forced into a tactical voting compromise. Growing up in a Tory heartland, I felt there was little I could do to change things, especially with the centre left vote being split between Labour and the Lib Dems.

Simply put, under AV, you can have your say on a sliding scale, i.e. ‘I want the Lib Dems to get in, but if not them, then Labour and whatever we get, don’t let the Tories in again.’

Or, to put another way, the general collective consensus is more powerful than a concentrated group of people why think exactly the same way, as in the beer vs coffee metaphor put forward by the Yes to AV campaign:

the av system explained as beer vs coffee

The suggestion that this system is too complicated for the public to understand is one of the most self-damaging arguments that the No to AV campaign has put forward so far. For starters, it insults the intelligence of the population and moreover it conveniently skates over the fact that the AV system is already used and readily understood in many mayoral elections, such as the one that saw Boris Johnson elected in London in 2008.

The second myth that urgently needs debunking before we go to the polls is that of price. AV will not cost us £250 million. That’s just a bare-faced lie and Chris Huhne and Nick Clegg have both had the guts to say so in so many words. Electronic voting machines are not an essential or even necessary part of switching to AV and public education about the new system needn’t cost that much for the reasons outlined above.

Finally, I really don’t buy the idea that we shouldn’t switch to AV because only three other countries in the world have it. When we abolished slavery we were one of the first countries in the world to do that, so sticking with what we’ve always had and what few others are doing isn’t always a bad thing.

Whatever your political beliefs and thoughts about AV or FPTP, please go and make your voice heard at the polling station tomorrow.

It’s our first chance to directly influence a major policy decision in nearly 40 years and may be our last for another 40. Please don’t let it pass you by.

Kick Up The Fire / Scholars / Lonely The Brave live review

Live at The Bowery, New Oxford Street, London (18/11/2010)

It’s not often that you go to a gig and come out raving about all three bands on the bill. But it seems like many people will have come away from the Bowery on Thursday night with a sense that they had discovered at least one excellent new band.

Lonely The Brave began the night in epic sweeping fashion, with reverb vocals and resounding riffs aplenty. Their Pearl Jam-meets-30 Seconds to Mars stylings definitely deserve a bigger venue.

Sam Nicholls: Scholar

Scholars were a different proposition altogether, with front man Sam Nicholls launching himself into a frankly petrified crowd and screaming every word as if his life depended on it. Once the audience had got over the initial shock, the charm of Scholars’ energetic pop-punk took hold, with a fair share of heads bobbing and toes tapping by the end of the half hour set.

Heading the bill were Kick Up The Fire, who were celebrating the launch of their self-titled mini-album. Lead singer Kenny Wastell cut an apologetic figure, and made it clear that the audience shouldn’t expect similar levels of lunacy to their predecessors.

Kick Up The Fire are one of those bands that worm their way into your head, they may not sound jaw-dropping at first, but after a couple of listens their alt-rock tunes really sink their teeth in and refuse to let go. It’s easy to see why Rock Sound said that their mini-album is “a record for which the repeat button seems custom-designed”.

Kick Up The Fire: Springsteen Fans

Covering every contemporary hot potato from lecherous politicians (No Hotel Room) to hypocritical religions (The Never-Ever Ending Story) in half an hour left the audience baying for more and KUTF duly obliged. The decision to repeat the two-minute anti-corporate sing-along No Fun In London instead of trying something more risky was ill-judged, however, and took some of the gloss off an otherwise flawless performance. There’s nothing wrong with leaving an audience wanting more, especially if you’ve yet to write a mediocre song.

Wastell confessed that he is currently a “fresher granddad” at age 29, but this can clearly be used to their advantage, as the fresh-faced girls in the front-row (presumably actual freshers) seemed like a pre-made street team. If they can fulfil their potential on a full-length album, there seems no reason why Kick Up The Fire can’t take 2011 by storm.

Standard sets the record straight over burkha bus ban

Muslim woman wearing a niqab veil
(flickr user: TheStoryBehind)

Reluctant though I am for this to turn into an Evening Standard-bashing blog, I feel compelled to take the London daily to task again for the third time in as many months. This time, my issue is with its handling of the highly sensitive issue of racism. Last week, their page three lead story accused a London bus driver of banning two students from a bus for wearing Muslim veils. Yasmin and Atoofa, both 22 from Slough, accused the driver of a Paddington-bound bus of refusing to let them board due to the fact that one student was wearing a hijab, and the other a face-covering niqab. Incendiary stuff and it’s easy to see why the Standard ran with it.

Except that it emerged this week that this was nothing more than a baseless allegation. Yesterday’s Standard printed a retraction on page 13 after CCTV footage showed the girls acting abusively towards the driver, demanding to be let on the bus after it had come to the end of its run.

The really objectionable thing about the Standard’s coverage is the disparity in prominence between the allegation and the fact. Surely the correction, based on legally enforceable evidence, should be given, if not equal, then similar prominence. On page 13 it is likely to get overlooked, but it could easily have been slipped onto page two. For that matter, should respectable newspapers be printing unsubstantiated allegations in the first place? Is it enough to take the supposed victims’ word as true? Fortunately the Standard’s lawyers seem to have swooped in at the right time as none of the full names were printed in the original article, thus negating the possibility of a libel suit from the bus driver in question.

However, the credibility of the paper has to be called into question, and worse still the original story has been picked up by the BBC news website and Auntie has yet to print the correction. A valuable reminder then, to read beyond the headline and question every story reported without any proof.

The Return of Red Ken

'Red' Ken Livingstone, Former London Mayor, on the cover of the New StatesmanKen Livingstone came storming back into the London limelight today, thanks in no small part to a gushing front page from the Evening Standard. The momentous event was Ken launching his Mayoral comeback campaign today – but this was not news, we had long known that he would be up for the scrap in 2012. The real news was that London’s most influential paper (yes, still) had welcomed the Lambeth-born left-winger back into its bosom after two years in the wilderness.

If the front page left us in any doubt as to the Standard’s approbation of Livingstone, then the 1,000-word editorial on page 14, penned by Ken himself, rammed home the point. This highly partisan soap-box rant serves as a wide-reaching manifesto, and includes populist measures, such as cracking down on bankers’ tax breaks and reducing bus fares, although Livingstone does stick by his principles in threatening to raise the 4×4 congestion charge to £25 per day.

The Standard’s reasoning for switching to back Ken can be easily explained. After two years as Mayor, Boris Johnson’s honeymoon has long since finished, and it is widely believed that he will step down instead of run for re-election (with one eye on No 10, no doubt). Furthermore, Labour achieved significant gains in London during the general election, with a swing of nine borough councils to the reds, so the wind is thoroughly in Ken’s favour.

But most interestingly for me, it can be put down to the change in editor at the Standard. Under Veronica Wadley, the Standard was loudly critical of Livingstone before the 2008 Mayoral election, with vicious headlines such as “Suicide bomb backer runs Ken’s campaign.” But it seems that, under the stewardship of Geordie Grieg (as of February 2009), the paper has taken a step back towards the left. Grieg has pinned his colours to the mast  today, and the Standard looks certain to be campaigning for change in City Hall in 2012, just as it did in 2008.

Shining a light: The Evening Standard takes a stand on poverty

It’s not hard to find fault with the Evening Standard, and even easier to find puns. Since going free their output has been of varied quality, lagging behind Metro for news coverage on some days. It’s clear to see that Standards are slipping. In this context, their splash today is all the more heartening.

Rarely do newspapers spell out their intentions as clearly as this. For me this is journalism at its hard-hitting, unashamedly purposeful best. David Cohen tackles the lingering issue of urban poverty, wading into child burials, unemployed graduates and single parents without a hint of Bono-esque faux-philanthropism. Whilst there are criticisms of the current Government, that is never allowed to overtake the dispassionate social observation that underpins this feature. What Cohen achieves is an eye-opening read for commuting Londoners, and with an estimated audience of 1.4million, the impact on the electorate will surely be significant.

The full article is well worth a read, and the Standard editorial team are clearly 100% behind it, giving it its own mini-site. The incredible gulf between rich and poor is easily overlooked in London, but from where I live the contrast is blatent. The sight of run-down council houses in the shadows of Canary Wharf makes for a powerful image.

The reaction on Twitter has been mixed at best, but for me this redefines what the Standard brings to the freesheet market: an agenda, original journalism and a powerful sense of indignation.